Q&A with Danica Patrick, professional race car driver

Professional race car driver Danica Patrick will slow down long enough Tuesday to visit Congress, where she plans to speak about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Patrick, whose grandmother died from the affliction, is part of a new awareness campaign called DRIVE4COPD. She spoke to The Hill about her Washington visit and what it’s like to work in a male-dominated profession.

Q: You’re speaking on Capitol Hill this week. Are you nervous?

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I mean, yes, I suppose so, a little bit. It’ll obviously be a new group to speak in front of, but it’s a topic I know a lot about, so I think any time you’re educated, it makes it a little bit easier.

Q: Do you do a lot of public speaking?

I speak in public a lot, but I don’t do a lot of public speaking in terms of, schedule a speech and do it. I’ve definitely done it; I do it a couple of times a year. It’s a little bit outside of my comfort zone, but you just have to prepare for it. I’m much more comfortable with a Q-and-A format.

Q: Is this your first time at the Capitol? In Washington?

It won’t be my first time to Washington, D.C., but it will be my first time to the Capitol, yeah.

Q: What has brought you here?

COPD and the fact that it’s the fourth-leading cause of death in the country, and the fact that you still have to explain to people in the country what it is. It’s killed more than breast cancer and diabetes combined, and I think we all know what those diseases are.

My grandma had COPD, and being the way the disease tends to take lives … she was really young, she was only 61 when she died. Entirely too young to die. She was on oxygen 24 hours a day at the end, and she just left too early. It was about 10 years ago.

It’s going to take the country some time to get caught up and see the effects of our works … But hopefully there won’t be more 29-year-old girls [like me] who don’t have their grandma.

Q: How would you describe your level of interest in politics?

I’m a casual observer. I mean, I pay attention. I think that over the years, as you get older, I think you become more interested, but also it was a very public campaign and election last time around, and I really do think it got a lot of people interested in it. 

I watch the news every morning, I watch CNN every morning. I keep up. I have opinions of my own — like everyone. Isn’t that what politics does?

Q: Are there any members of Congress in particular that you’d like to meet?

Like celebrities? I’m just kidding. I don’t know. I know who the president is and all that, but as far as Congress goes, I’m not up on all that.

I think that people who run for office and have been elected all have an interesting story to tell, though.

Q: What are you going to wear to the Capitol?

The colors of COPB are orange and navy, and I think you can expect to see me in those colors. I’m not sure what designer I’ll be wearing … I think you’ll see me looking like a fancy lady.

Q: Would you ever run for office?

Ha! If you knew how bad I was at the Constitution test when I was a kid, you wouldn’t ask. No, I don’t think so.

Q: Statistically speaking, Congress is still dominated by men — and you’re one of few females in your profession. What’s that like?

I don’t really know much different, to be honest. I enjoy working with men; I don’t mind it at all. I’ve been surrounded predominantly by men since I [started go-kart racing at age] 10. Although I do come from a family of women — it’s my mom and sister and I against my dad.

Q: What do you like to do outside of car-racing?

My husband and I really like to travel, I have to say, even though I travel all around the country for a living.

In the wintertime, when it’s my time off, it’s nice to entertain and cook dinners. We like going out to fancy dinners — although it’s more my kind of thing. You, know, those 10-course meals where you’re still hungry afterwards. 

We like culture — museums, those kinds of things.